“But I did not take education seriously until I saw something in it for me, aside from what everyone else thought.” This is how the genius commentator and thinker on racism Ta-Nehisi Coates ends a series of blogs and articles written by him and one about him by another journalist in which Coates summarizes his philosophy for presenting education to black males in middle and high schools. This is an important topic. Only 60% of black males graduate high school. Of those that do not graduate, 60% wind up in jail. Reading his philosophy based on his failed experiences with education is a very enlightening experience on race and racism in the United States. Not because the comments are in any way enlightening — as usual his comments are sophomoric at best, just spitting out what rich white people want to hear. They are enlightening because they embody the modern American new school racist’s justifications for racism yet Coates is too clueless to even know it, thus further nurturing that racism unintentionally.
According to Coates:
— For high school, he was admitted to the prestigious Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, one of the top public (that is free) high schools in the country. While a freshman there, he was arrested for punching a teacher in the face and suspended on suspicion of assaulting another teacher. Somehow, because of his educated parents’ argument to the school and the court, he avoided both jail and getting kicked out of the school. In gratitude for such leniency, he made it to his senior year with a 1.8 GPA and failing the English requirement but none of it mattered because he got into another fight and was then expelled but still avoided jail. These results did not bother him because he did not see in education “something in it for me.”
— In preparation for formal education, his mother, who was a teacher in the Baltimore Public School system, began home schooling Coates at age four teaching him to read and write and then to start writing essays about “me”, his problems, his sense of injustice, and how he felt about “me.” His preparation continued into a middle school that was so advanced it tried to teach him French in the 7th grade but he thought it was all a joke, “only an opportunity to discipline the body”, that involves “writing between the lines”, “copying the directions legibly”, and “memorizing theorems”. He writes “[t]hey were concerned with compliance” and “Algebra, Biology, English” are just excuses for “discipline.” He did not agree with his older siblings who saw and used education as the means to their engineering, business, and graduate degrees. He did not see “something in it for me.”
— He supposedly wanted to attend Baltimore Poly because it was a way to avoid the violence in his neighborhood and the other schools. According to his descriptions of that violence, it was instigated either by him or by his father’s beatings of him. So, as the cause of the violence, he did not get away from it but simply brought it with him. As a young black male, he was a success in adding to Baltimore crime statistics in which young black males that are only 10% of the population commit 50%-60% of the violent crimes and 75%-85% of the murders. Education did not stop his violence because he did not see “something in it for me.”
— Despite such a resume for his college application, thanks to his father’s book publishing business and employment as head librarian at Howard, he was able to get admission and a free ride to Howard University for five years without graduating. Other than the learning he received from his sexual exploits in college, he did not graduate because he did not see “something in it for me”
— Coates is the second youngest of his father’s children. His father had seven children with three women. Giving his father the benefit of a doubt and thus assuming that his college-educated father was not a stereotypical black male who sees relationships with women as solely a means for free sex but actually financially supported the three mothers of his children and did not make them rely on government welfare, public funds, Medicaid, and single mother households to raise his children for him, his father’s business and education must have been fairly successful to provide such financial support for a family of eleven people in total. Despite these good family examples of the power of education, family support, and hard work, Coates still did not see “something in it for me.”
— While at Howard, his father’s connections got him a job at a local black owned newspaper where Coates finally saw “something in it for me.” As a result of that “something”, he goes on to describe some of its rewards: spending time in Paris with his fellow intelligentsia enjoying French society; spending time in Aspen with rich people; going to “Ideas Festivals” with his fellow creative genius minds of American intelligentsia.
What was the light he finally saw that he could not see before and of which he informs black males?
As is true throughout history, we live in a world of misery that at its worse includes barely literate and even illiterate barefoot, peasant families living in war zones or drug infested, disease inflected, unsanitary shanties governed by despots or such inefficient, uncaring governments that they might as well be despots. Despite such misery, even in the worse conditions many of these ignorant peasants still imagine and dream: about getting an education somewhere, anywhere; of emigrating to the United States; of learning English, French, Italian, German, or anything to get the hell out of their misery; of the benefits of duty and loyalty to hard work, love of family, and respect of family; of the benefits of duty, loyalty, and love to teachers and to those who show compassion and caring for them; and most important, who can still have empathy for nonviolence and hope for a better life, even the leap of faith to religious hope. So, did Coates see the light that he was a selfish, self-centered, ungrateful, violent, lazy, arrogant, pompous, ignorant fool who lacked the insight to see the opportunities freely handed him by the love of his family and the altruism of society, who also lacked the imagination to see anything beyond the small pond in which he was the big fish? Did he see the need or at least feel the guilt to apologize to those he hurt, including the tax payers and financial donators who gave him a free ride through most of his life? Did he see the need to tell students about the historical significance of Western Civilization and their luck of living a society that is the end result of millions upon millions of lives who suffered and died with hope attempting to pass on to posterity Christian duties to love your neighbor as yourself, to live in truth, to have faith, to repent one’s sins, to give proof of humility, to love justice, to be merciful, to be sincere and wholehearted and to endure persecution and suffering for these virtues?
No, he became enlightened to see all is forgiven without even need of asking for forgiveness because of the excuse that some of his ancestors were slaves and he was black. The two must be taken together. We all have ancestors who were slaves. His enlightenment was that his childhood problems ensue from the slavery resulting from his African ancestors capturing their enemies and through Muslim traders selling 5% of them to the American colonies — that is the only slavery that matters. He saw this “something in it for me” and the need to pass this excuse onto posterity. Thus began his career as a genius writer.
According to Coates, true equality will mean “black people in this country have the right to be as mediocre as white people.” Shit, Wall Street bankers and managers are selfish, self-centered, ungrateful, violent, too lazy to see or care about the effects of their acts, arrogant, pompous, ignorant fools who lack the insight and imagination to feel empathy. So for true equality, black people should be allowed to be and do the same, right? A racist will see in Coates not only the true equality he wants but an unfair preference by the powers-that–be in which they treat a mediocre and selfish person, writer, and citizen as a genius simply because he is black and says what rich white folks want him to say. A racist will see the Coates family’s and his community’s failure to call Coates on his ignorance and hypocrisy as a further unfair preference granted to him because he is black.
Of course, such racism is irrational and morally wrong. One should not judge all blacks by this one individual Coates. One should not racially profile, refuse to associate, or refuse to employ blacks or discriminate against them in anyway simply because of bad apples such as Coates or any other like him.
One should not; but why not, is there “something in it for me”?